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Advantage East Bengal

- Bagan pin hopes on Katsumi in 150th CFL Derby

Calcutta: Given the occasion, both Kingfisher East Bengal and McDowell Mohun Bagan would want to give it all in the 150th Derby, at the Salt Lake Stadium, on Sunday.

But are both teams really overawed with this ‘special’ occasion? It doesn’t seem so.

East Bengal coach Armando Colaco hardly spoke a word about it, while Subhas Bhowmick, Mohun Bagan’s technical director, commented: “I’m not too bothered about figures and numbers. I’ve been part of Derby matches since 1969.”

It only reflects that staying in the hunt for the CFL Premier Division title is the only priority for the two teams.

On previous occasions, the contest between the arch-rivals would go on to be the title-decider. But this season, an inspiring show by Mohammedan Sporting and Tollygunge Agragami have pushed the ‘Big Two’ out of the top three position in the league table. Under the circumstances, it’s a must-win tie for East Bengal and Mohun Bagan as a draw would only benefit Mohammedan Sporting and Tollygunge.

Maybe Colaco is right when he calls his team the “underdogs” going into Sunday’s encounter. His counterpart, too, made a similar remark, but goes a step ahead in saying there’s hardly any pressure on his team.

In recent times, though, Bhowmick’s record as coach/technical director in a Derby isn’t inspiring enough. He hasn’t been on the winning side post the 3-5 drubbing at the hands of Karim Bencharifa’s Bagan back in 2009.

On paper, East Bengal comprise more players who have experienced and handled the pressures of a Derby. That said, it wouldn’t be correct to conclude that the red-and-golds aren’t feeling any pressure. Had it been so, Colaco would have waited a little before rushing with Arnab Mondal (who has sustained an ankle injury), not giving him enough time to be 100 per cent fit.

Even Dudu Omagbemi, who arrived only on Friday evening, is in East Bengal’s scheme of things for the Sunday encounter.

Mohun Bagan footballers, however, are a bit short on experience when it comes to playing in a Derby. Probably that’s why Bhowmick is forced to field Fatai Adiso in the heart of the defence alongside Kinshuk Debnath, as he lacks options.

“I would’ve seen Fatai in action, had our game against Southern Samity not been cancelled. But given the scenario, I’ve to make him play even though he hasn’t featured in any competitive game since his arrival… He’s the best option of them all,” Bhowmick admitted.

A lot will depend on how Katsumi Yusa performs since he’s been Bagan’s standout player so far. If Mehtab Hussain and Cavin Lobo can take charge of the midfield keeping Katsumi at bay, things could be far easier for Colaco and Co.

East Bengal certainly have quality, especially up front with Ranty Martins and Leo Bertos, who’s likely to operate from a little behind. Both Ranty and Bertos haven’t quite lived up to expectations, particularly the New Zealander, as he has struggled on the Salt Lake Stadium’s artificial turf in the two matches he had played so far.

But all said and done, you just can’t rule out their abilities and Sunday could just be the occasion to showcase their actual class. For Bagan, Balwant Singh’s performance will also be crucial as he’s up against a rival defence that as of now has looked shaky. Partnering Balwant up front could be Sabeeth Sathyan or Manish Bhargav.

Meanwhile, captain Harmanjyot Singh Khabra, Bertos, Gurwinder Singh, Abhishek Das, Subodh Kumar and Robert Lalthlamuana took part in the ice bucket challenge for East Bengal on Saturday. Now, given the overall quality and strength of the side compared to that of Mohun Bagan, the Rantys and Khabras could well pour cold water over green-and-maroon hopes on Sunday, should they get their act right.